Throat Company F/Z
Purcell Room Tuesday 21 January 2003
Performance artist John Paul Zaccarini enjoys his audience as much as they enjoy him. Indeed, in the cheeky epilogue to his one man show, Throat, which he delivers with disembodied head peeking out from behind the diaphanous white chiffon backcloth, he comes clean with us on what he has been trying to say all along. As his head gradually disappears in a struggle against an imaginary force, he tells us that it was nothing profound really, that there really was no deep message and that if anything he was just trying to tell us he loves us. Tongue in cheek as it is, I think I believe him.
Throat is a high energy, self-conscious and shameless romp through confused and enforced identity, sexuality and guilt. Zaccarini takes us through a range of scenarios that might depict the journey of a man from private preparation, through public presentation to crisis point and penitence, or, by Zaccarini’s own admission, might just be an excuse to show off some impressive dance, aerial, singing and comic acting skills. Nevertheless, there is a directness in Zaccarini’s approach that fully engages the audience, to the extent that we even begin to feel implicated in his growing panic and fear of sexual performance. He plays quite freely with his audience, inviting us in and taking advantage of his dominance as performer, which is both comic and clever. Comic because he has enormous charisma, imagination and timing and we are each waiting for him to approach us individually while we sit in the crowd; clever because it embodies his theme – it is precisely the building up of an ostentatious public persona that ultimately leaves a human adrift in a sea of shallow possible identities.
That this character careers between self-control and self-victimisation, is clear though the choreography of the piece as a whole and of the more specific movement moments. The choreography has its basis in moments of physical and emotional discomfort and easily recognised human gesture in sequence. It is performed, however, with dexterity and grace, hence the thematic tension.
As well as dancer, Zaccarini is an aerialist and it is perhaps in these moments that that his work is most honest. There is a beautiful moment when, panic over, the character puts on a simple white costume, covers his body in flour and rises into a white spotlight on an aerial loop. As the white dust falls in the white light, movement becomes slow and introspective and we hear a lyrical solo cello, Zaccarini becomes angelic and childlike, seeming to discover the world for the first time. Like the ball of dough beneath him, which he was kneading wistfully at the beginning of the show, there is a sense of a human attempting to re-form, re-create and purify himself.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable show. It is fun, stimulating and obviously the work of someone with sensitivity and a healthy disrespect of convention. There are moments, however, when images verge on the symbolic – Lady Macbeth’s blood stained hands and Narcissus’s self-discovery in the crystal lake are a bit overdone. Likewise, certain images feel a bit clichéd and heavy-handed - the faithful companion wine bottle which accompanies the character into his public life doesn’t actually have an effect of showing desperation, but becomes self-conscious and referential. I think Zaccarini can trust himself to create emotional states without props and to show us his skill and his natural comedy without needing to dress them up. He is a beautiful and bold performer.